Mind and Body

Wanna bet on it?

Without much fanfare, problem gambling has kept growing during COVID-19

Photo by Richard Asinof

The lure of jackpots from gambling has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 4/26/21
Problem gambling, along with increased substance use and demand for mental health services, is a growing consequence of trauma and stress related to the COVID pandemic.
What is the current return on investment to the state from revenue for gambling in Rhode Island? What are the odds that the R.I. General Assembly willing to consider funding problem gambling education programs for youth in Rhode Island? What is the connection between substance use and problem gambling?
Billboards along the highway offer a fascinating vantage point to see what are the products and services that are the most hyped in Rhode Island. Beyond the signs announcing the jackpots of lottery games, the most frequent are billboards advertising personal injury lawyers, casinos, and health insurance companies.
On cable news networks, there are a plethora of ads marketing drug treatments for chronic conditions and new cars. On sports networks, there are tons of ads promoting sports betting and drinks.
What does that tell you about the nature of our consumption these days?

PROVIDENCE – The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted so many of our lives. The losses have been traumatic. Every day, it seems, there are new statistics revealing how the risks from increased stress keep playing out – increased demand for mental health and behavioral health services, increases the drug overdose deaths, and decreases in life expectancy.

One of the most overlooked signs of trauma, it appears, is the increase in episodes of problematic gambling.

The Rhode Island Council on Problem Gambling, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote public health concerning gambling in Rhode Island, recently provided ConvergenceRI with some worrisome data on the continued increase in problematic gambling during the pandemic. The signs include:

• Approximately 4-6 percent of high school students are addicted to gambling and gaming

• 60-80 percent of high school students reported gambling in the last year

• 10-14 percent are at risk of developing an addiction to gambling and gaming

• 40 percent of individuals with problem gambling started gambling before the age of 17

• Gamers around the world are spending more time and money on video games during the pandemic, and the trend will likely continue to grow post-pandemic at a rate of 39-42 percent

• Just since the beginning of the pandemic, gaming is up 83 percent; purchases of video games up 63 percent

For example, “Call of Duty: Warzone was up from 6 million users in March of 2020 to 60 million by May of 2020. Twitch viewers went from 10 million in January of 2020 to 45 million by the end of March 2020.

I see a bad moon rising
Currently, in Rhode Island, the legal age to gamble is 18. At 18, an individual can still be in high school and have a sports betting App on their phone. We currently have two casinos, on-line gaming, and on-line sports betting, all sanctioned by the state.

The problem, according to the Rhode Island Council on Problem Gambling, is that there are “zero dollars’ allocated to provide prevention and education for our youth and young adults.

All the work undertaken by the Council has been financed through in-kind donations from the Lottery and IGT, and grants through the Rhode Island Foundation.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council was able to create and market a 30-hour clinician’s course, which, once finished, provides a licensed clinician an endorsement as specializing in problem gambling. The Council hopes to be able to resume such work in 2020.

In addition, the Council told ConvergenceRI that they have conducted some research in connecting problem gambling with opioid use, as well as gathering data on gambling patterns of young adults.

The Council said that it was in the process of working with the judicial system to create a Court Assessment Program tailored to individuals who are to appear before a judge due to problem gambling.

“Now is the time to educate our parents, teachers and athletic directors of the sign of problem gambling in youth,” a spokesperson for the Council told Convergence. “Now is the time to continue to educate our clinicians, so that they can meet the needs of youth and young adults who are problem gamblers and gamers.”

The high cost of gambling
The hidden costs of problem gambling are approximately $7 billion dollars annually, which includes gambling-related criminal justice incidents, health care, bankruptcy and other consequences.

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